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Community Workshops

Today’s post is from our director Sharon Jacksties, who has been particularly involved in the Community Programme of the festival. Here she gives us an update on events that have been largely unpublicised as they are not open to general audience-members, but which can have a profound effect on the wellbeing and quality of life of the participants.

We are now nearly half way through our Somerset storytelling workshops programme, with not many of our sessions for elderly people left and our workshops for adults with learning disabilities starting soon.

The team has been working at Torrwood residential care unit, the Lawrence Centre lunch club and Bridgemead Care Home. Somerset is fortunate enough to have the only company of learning disabled storytellers in Europe and Openstorytellers ‘opened’ our series of community workshops at the Lawrence Centre. It was very satisfying to have one of the festival’s target groups performing for another. Here are some of the lunch club members’ comments: ‘… I very much admire the sincerity it’s not easy to speak in public…’ ‘…Very, very interesting and humorous…’ ‘…Something different…’’…I had a marvellous time…’

I was also told a local story by one of the members about the search for King Arthur’s knights at Cadbury. This was a fascinating account that brought together personal, family and regional stories together with a national legend. Another excellent example of how storytelling activities stimulate memory and interaction.

Our aim is to entertain, engage and stimulate residents and service users – all of whom have mobility issues due to physical decline, disability or memory loss. Stories come from all over the world, from all landscapes, cultures, family and social situations. They can bring the world to those who can no longer venture out into it. When working with elderly participants, the leaders adapt their sessions according to the needs of the participants – some groups are made up of those suffering from dementia and others where the needs are more physical, but concentration and memory are less impaired. It is an inspiration to witness a storyteller honing her skills by telling the same story completely differently according to her audience.

Another aim is to educate staff about storytelling, to enable them to see their residents and service users in a different light and to provide a setting where they can develop their interactive skills in a creative way, as an extra to the routine demands of their work.

We also seek to provide a setting for storytellers who may want to develop existing skills for working with particular community groups and for those in the caring profession who want to learn more about storytelling, perhaps to use it as an additional skill in their work. To facilitate this, a volunteer/shadowing opportunity has been built into every session, so that a less experienced storyteller can learn from others. This aspect of the project has been so successful that even the most experienced tellers want to shadow others as a learning opportunity, and some sessions have more than one volunteer.

Because the feedback from all participants has been so positive, with an additional care home becoming a host venue, and others on the waiting list, the festival directors are already thinking about how to address this need during our next festival.

Glastonbury Story Slam 2 June

We have had such a busy summer here, we have got very behind on our reviews and updates but here is one from the first phase of the festival back in June.

We chose to provide a mix of different events as part of the festival and our story slams have proven to be some of the most popular. They give developing tellers a chance to perform in a professional venue in front of a supportive audience, a very different experience to telling in your local story circle. Below is a write-up of the Story Slam in the Red Brick Building in Glastonbury on 2 June from Festival Director Sharon Jacksties – this story slam had a slightly different format than others in the festival as performers were allowed to sing or recite an original poem as well as tell a story.

If Glastonians had ventured into the Red Brick Building, Glastonbury’s newest arts venue, on the 2nd June, they would have met with a strange snake/human hybrid – last seen in Glastonbury several years ago and until then, believed to be extinct as a species.

The Snaked Truth was there to MC the evening’s Story Slam and to control, if necessary, the stampede of would -be -slammers with what appeared to be a giant water pistol. There was no need to use this device, however, as the slammers were all so mesmerising in their contributions that not a movement or murmur was to be heard as story after story unfolded. Tellers and listeners were thereby spared the discovery that the pistol was loaded not with water, but with snake venom, a rather quick acting if ultimate Truth Serum.

An illustrious panel of judges included Glastonbury’s mayor who dignified the occasion by bringing his regalia, but was excused from wearing it, as the MC feared a costume drama takeover. Mayor Jon Cousins regaled us in another fashion with a hilarious tale of a runaway coffin. So dynamic was its delivery, that had he been wearing his chain of office he might well have strangled himself and joined the protagonist in the coffin. Fortunately this fate was avoided despite his enthusiasm and he joined with fellow judges Joanna Procter and Tim Bates in awarding Lisa Schneidau first prize.

Lisa Schneidau had come all the way from Devon to tell us a traditional tale of feuding landowners, artfully set in a contemporary context. Autobiographical travel tales, poetry, traditional stories and a tear-pulling blues song written by the singer were the offerings of the evening. In all there was a varied menu of 12 performances, and as it happened each one of these genres was a prize winner.

It was especially pleasing that there were some newcomers to storytelling. Some listeners surprised themselves and delighted others by spontaneously getting up to share a story. There were requests for repeat events and suggestions for Glastonbury having its own regular story circle. This is a development that the festival will consider as a high proportion of Glastonians do not own cars and can’t reach other local story circles.

Frome Library 1 June

A small but perfectly formed audience gathered to listen to some traditional stories in Frome Library today. They sat attentively for 40 minutes listening to tales from around the world including stories about: where the first butterflies came from, what a mysterious old man did with a magical pear tree, some of Anansi’s tricks and why a certain king’s ears were so unusual. A lovely session.

Summerlands Storyelling Festival want to raise the profile of storytelling for adults, but that doesn’t mean we want to leave the children out of the fun so we have organised a programme of family events at libraries and bookshops across the region. There is another family session in Frome, this time at Hunting Raven Books in Cheap Street.

The Whale’s Tale at Rooklings 30 May

The festival supported sessions of music and story for young children at Rook Lane Chapel, Frome, helping Mr Rook’s Speak Easy organise a pilot for what will hopefully become a regular event.

There were two very different sessions: one busy with lots of toddlers having lots of fun and one very small with just a couple of children getting lots of time to play many different instruments. A very successful experiment that the Mr Rook’s team say has has given them loads of ideas and suggestions for improvements as they move towrads creating their new early-years events.  Thank you to all who came, listened and played and of course to Arts Council England who made it possible. Keep an eye on the Mr Rook’s Facebook page for announcements about future events.

The Whale's Tale

We’re Off! – The Whale’s Tale 26 May

Sharon and Peter debuted their new show on Thursday at Mr Rook’s, closing the season there but starting the festival off with a splash from the tail of a very large whale.

The evening opened with an Anansi story from Openstorytellers – the only group for learning disabled storytellers in Europe and one of our Partner Organisation for the Festival. You can find out more about them on this page. They have been loyal regulars at Mr Rook’s since the club opened but this is the first time they have told there  and they did a great job. We heard about Anansi the Spider and the tug of war between Elephant and Whale, a classic tale about the trickster arachnid from the African and Caribbean traditions. They told the story with great energy and clearly had fun with the humour. Mr Rook’s hopes to be able to offer more such opportunities for regulars in the next season, to give local tellers a chance to perform in front of an audience.

Then it was on to the World Premiere of The Whale’s Tale from Sharon and Peter. The stage looked lovely with a handmade banner and lots of instruments and noise-makers of all kinds. The frame story told of a whale who leaves the sea and climbs a mountain to meet a mysterious being who, according to rumour, is the biggest creatures in the world. In the process of finding out if the rumour is true, they tell each other stories from different traditions and really, really annoy a monk. The stories told by a being from the sea and a being from the land showed the relationship between the two worlds as people try to survive on the water, and sea creatures visit the shore with comic, romantic or tragic results.  A lovely, gently humorous story interspersed with music and song.


Latest News 25 May

We are sorry to have to inform you that the family performance of The Whale’s Tale at The David Hall in South Petherton has had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Anyone who has bought tickets should contact the venue. The evening performance at Mr Rook’s tomorrow Thursday 26 May and the family performance and workshop at Rooklings on Monday 30 are both still going ahead.